Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Published: 2013

Genre: YA fiction

Length: 325 pages

Setting: 1986-7, Des Moines, Iowa

Interest: I’ve heard great things about this book in multiple locations and decided it was finally time to read it.

Summary: Eleanor’s the new kid in high school and she doesn’t fit in. She’s a little chubby, her clothes are weird, and she has a hard time making friends. This leads to some pretty significant bullying. Park, the only Asian kid in the school, takes pity on her the first day and lets her sit with him on the bus. Gradually, they start talking to each other and find many interest in common. Eleanor’s home life is problematic (she’s one step above homeless and her mother’s new husband is abusive) but Park has a pretty idyllic life. Park and Eleanor fall in love and Park helps Eleanor run away in the end.

Final thoughts: This book deserves all the hype it’s getting. I loved it and read it in an after while camping. Rowell expertly captured that feeling of first love when it feels like all the nerve endings in your body are concentrated in your hands and they are on fire. I enjoyed watching the evolution of Eleanor and Park’s relationship from silence in the bus seat to surreptitious comic book reading to actual discussion to a physical relationship. Alongside their relationship, you see glimpses of Eleanor’s home life. Everyone lives in fear of Ritchie and they have no money (for example, Eleanor can’t listen to the mix tape Park gave her because, although she has a Walkman, she doesn’t have batteries for it). Park helps Eleanor survive through some pretty awful bullying from schoolmates and her stepfather.

The set-up of the book was interesting as well since we alternated chapter narrators between Eleanor and Park. The reader gets to be in both of their lives and see how they don’t fit in, but complement each other. Even Park, who seems to have the perfect life by Eleanor’s estimation (she had a hard time just going to his house because it was so different from her own situation), had problems living up to his father’s expectations. But, when push came to shove, his father supports his decision to help Eleanor.

Title comes from: The two main characters and alternating narrators.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 51/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and an E in my Title Alphabet Challenge

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The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan

Published: 2005

Genre: YA fantasy

Length: 262 pages

Font: Adobe Jensen

Setting: mostly Celtica, soon after the events of The Ruins of Gorlan

Interest: It’s the second book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series Continue reading

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Love in the Time of Dust and Venom by Sharon Joss

Published: 2013 in Fiction River: Time Streams

Genre: time travel

Length: 10 pages

Setting: near future, somewhere on Earth

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Summary: Keiko’s grandfather, Sufo, has decided he wants to participate in an experimental lightpulse jump that has the ability to send him into the future. Keiko is sure he’s jumping to his death, but since he only has six months to live, she’s willing to support his decision. Sufo makes three jumps. In the first two, he comes back immediately because of problems. However, he brings back fascinating data for the scientists. It’s only on the last jump, 1000 years in the future, that he finds a time to stay.

Final thoughts: I found this story enchanting. It’s told from Keiko’s point of view, so we see her concern for her elderly grandfather and confusion at his choice to jump to the future. She doesn’t agree with his decision, but she respects him enough to abide by it. We never see the future, only Sufo’s reaction to it. We also see the scientists’ glee at the data Sufo brings back about the future, which is totally what how a scientist would react. It’s time travel, although the methodology is basically a handwave, but focused more on the emotions than the actions.

Title comes from: The first time Sufo jumps, the dust he brings back is significant to the scientist. The second time he jumps, he’s stung by bees.

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Octopus! by Katherine Harman Courage

Subtitle: The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea

Published: 2014

Genre: nonfiction science

Length: 256 pages

Interest: My aunt had given the book to me after she read it because she thought I’d be interested. I needed a book from home to read (I was out of library books and the library was closed) and this looked good.

Summary: The book is all about octopuses. It starts with our fascination with octopuses, especially in the culinary sense. She also goes into details about the biology of octopuses – their arms, color-changing skin, and reproduction. She recounts some of the research being done on octopuses and the difficulties of working on them.

Final thoughts: Not surprisingly, I enjoyed this book since I’m big into marine biology. I knew a bit about octopuses (although I have to admit I like to call them octopods instead of octopuses), but this went much deeper than my knowledge. I found the inclusion of recipes and different ways to eat octopus a surprising but enjoyable addition to a book that was mostly about the biology of octopuses. She included many interactions she had with octopuses, from fishing for them in Spain, to research labs, to eating them. Overall, an enjoyable book.

Title comes from: The subject

Reading challenges fulfilled: 49/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and an O in my Title Alphabet Challenge

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

Published: 1993

Genre: dystopian YA

Length: 179 pages

Setting: an unnamed Community, sometime in the future

Interest: It’s recommended many places as a great story for kids. Mr. Curiosity decided it would make a good bedtime story.

Summary: Jonas is almost a Twelve, but he has no idea what job he’ll be assigned at the yearly Ceremony. He’s chosen to become the Receiver of Memory, a unique job in the Community. The Giver is the holder of all the memories of the world Before, when choice and differences and bad things were possible. As Jonas receives memories from the Giver, he realizes how limited life in his Community is. He and the Giver devise a plan where Jonas will leave the Community and head Elsewhere. This should result in all his newly-transferred memories being released back to the people. The plan is accelerated when Jonas learns the newchild his family has been raising is scheduled for release.

Final thoughts: I can totally see why this book is recommended so often and won the Newbery Medal. It really made you think about how life was different for Jonas and if those changes were good. I liked how Lowry kept sneaking in details that made Jonas’ world seem more and more alien (assigned families, assigned jobs, Precision of Language, Release if you were old or didn’t fit in, sharing of feelings, etc.). Mr. Curiosity was shocked when he discovered they had given up the ability to see color to improve their sameness. The worst of it was, the people had no idea what they were missing. There were so many rules to follow, and if you couldn’t follow them, you were Released (which Jonas discovered did not mean going to another Community. It meant you were killed). And the ending was so ambiguous – did he save Jonas or did they both die of exposure in the mountains? I think he was hallucinating at the end, but it’s not clear so a kid can think they were saved.

The book worked very well as a read aloud. The chapters were the perfect length for a single night of reading, and there weren’t too many voices that I had to do. Each night, we were left wanting to read more, which is good incentive to get ready for bed in time the next night.

Awards won: Newbery Award in 1994

Title comes from: The Giver’s job

Reading challenges fulfilled: 48/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and 9/12 in my Award Winning Challenge

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Brown Eggs and Jam Jars by Aimee Wimbush-Bourque

Subtitle: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites

Published: 2015

Genre: cookbook

Length: 308 pages

Interest: I saw it recommended on one of the websites I read as a great cookbook to read and not just for the recipes. My local library had it so I thought it would be worth checking out to see if it was worth buying. Continue reading

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Short Stories by Jose Iriarte

Title: Yuca and Dominoes

Published: November 2013 in Strange Horizons

Genre: fiction

Length: 15 pages

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Setting: Miami’s Little Havana, recent past

Summary: Ana Teresa just wants to get out of the apartment building she lives in with her grandparents. She knows there’s more to life than dominoes and Cuban food. She manages to a scholarship to college and makes it out, although she’s drawn back in once her grandfather dies.

Final thoughts: I did not see any hint of science fiction or fantasy in this story. It was an interesting enough story about a girl living among Cuban ex-pats, hoping for more from life, and eventually realizing that life in that apartment building is pretty good.

Title comes from: Ana Teresa’s grandfather spent much of his time playing dominoes with others from the apartment building and her grandmother was famous for her yuca dishes. Both were the ties binding her to that building.

Title: Cabron

Published: November 2013 in TWO: The 2nd Annual Stupefying Stories Horror Special

Genre: horror (I’m assuming from the title of the anthology in which it was published)

Length: 20 pages

Interest: It was included in the 2014 Campbellian Anthology

Setting: a Catholic girls’ school, recent past

Summary: The narrator has just started at a new school. She hasn’t made many friends and is creeped out by the guy who runs the infirmary who looks like a priest, but isn’t actually. He has an unnatural fascination with blood.

Final thoughts: I’m not a fan of horror this seemed to be playing on the Catholic schoolgirl/evil teacher trope. I just wasn’t into it at all so quit after a few pages. It did have more of the Cuban flavor I picked up strongly from the first story.

Title comes from: It’s what the narrator called the teacher at the end (I peeked and read the last two pages just to see how it turned out).

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